I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mapping Our Journey

After this year's ACFW conference, I traveled southeast along the beautiful Ohio River Valley to see a close friend before continuing on to others in Morgantown, WV.

After missing one MapQuest turn, I found myself on an alternate paved highway that locals in gas stations and restaurants assured me headed the right direction. I needed to reach Clarksburg. However, no highway sign indicated Clarksburg, let alone my final destination of Morgantown. Instead, I wound around hills and up and down valleys past countless bewildering local names incorporating Knob, Gap, Lick, Mountain, Hollow and Run--but with no larger destination name to assure me I was on target.

I love long road trips, but I don't recall a more frustrating drive. While the clock ticked, I feared I might be hurtling the wrong direction. When I topped one last hill and spotted Clarksburg, I almost kissed the city limits sign.

That experience made me more determined to provide readers clear signposts in my writing--and a sense of the story progressing toward satisfying conclusions. After gripping opening hooks, as writers, we must deliver well-connected beginnings, middles and ends, along with clear progress indicators along the way. Otherwise, disconnected side roads may frustrate and lose readers until they turn back or quit their journey entirely.

In his famous 1765 Preface to Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson wrote: :A quibble to Shakespeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures; it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire . . . . A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside . . . or stoop from his elevation. A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight, that he was content to purchase it, by the sacrifice of reason . . . . A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it."

After my drive through West Virginia, I am newly committed to resist quibbles. Instead, I will write clean, forward-moving narrative, delivering what I promise, while providing satisfying story signposts along the way.

Delores Topliff

Thursday, October 28, 2010

It's Almost Here!!

I am taking the plunge. I am going to write a novel in the month of November. I have updated my page at the official NaNoWriMo website, searched out my writing buddies, and caught up with friends from years past. Bring on November the first!

What is NaNoWriMo you ask? As my fellow Ponderer, Lisa, wrote at the beginning of this month it is the National Novel Writing Month with the subtitle "thirty days and nights of literary abandon!"

Some may be wondering why in the world writing a novel in a month needs its own website. Well, I will tell you: it’s about the fellowship and it’s about the fun. It’s about succeeding and celebrating the successes of others. If you write 50K words before the month is out, no matter how bad those words may be, you win. And what writer, with all the rejections and disappointments out there, doesn’t want to WIN?! Creator Chris Baty and all of his little elves have worked hard to make this a fabulously fun global contest, counting the words of almost 120K novelists in 2009. The website servers calculated 1.6 BILLION words!

I know, right!? You totally want in on that action! And if you are still on the fence, let me tell you what else you can expect when you commit (sign up) to NaNoWriMo 2010:

You will receive pep talks by widely published authors. Personally, I can’t wait to see what Lemony Snicket has to say! Imagine my sheer wonder in a NaNo past, to open my Yahoo mail and see an email from Sue Grafton sitting right there in my inbox! It was exhilarating to read that she was thinking about me, and hoping my writing was going well. She told me of her own struggles and encouraged me to keep going. I know this email went out to thousands of other writers, but in that one moment, it was just me and I is for I Know You Can Do It!

And that’s not all!! They provide fun web badges and widgets to put on your facebook or in emails or on your MBT My Page so you can announce to as many people as possible that you are writing a book in a month! This is something you will definitely want to do. Tell absolutely everyone what you are doing; the more the better! People will ask you how it is going, and you won’t want to disappoint, so you will write.

In addition, I highly recommend joining your regional group. Not only do you compete on a global word count scoreboard, your “municipal liaisons” are fun leaders who facilitate a lot of great writing activities. My region has a kick off at a local 24-hour coffee place, and novelists can stay and write together as long as they like after midnight on the 1st. We also have places to meet up and write every evening during the month, complete with a chat room if we are unable to attend in person. These “write ins” offer specified times, away from your house and family and responsibilities. Usually drinks and snacks are available. And Word Wars. Ah yes, the Word Wars. They are the key to winning this thing! When that timer gets set for 15 minutes, type like a maniac to have the highest word count in the group. It is amazing what a little competition can do for word count! Then, as often as you like (I have, on occasion, posted after adding only 16 words) post and update your word count and then watch your progress at the top of the NaNoWriMo home page. It is oddly rewarding to watch the gold bar inch across the screen.

Looking for a way to keep yourself motivated and on track without the trappings of actually being online? You need a desk top calendar! There are a ton of people who have designed special wallpapers and calendars to help you track your words and be inspired each and every day. I search until I find one I like, and then right click on it to make it my computer desk top image. You can find a plethora of offerings in this NaNoWriMo forum. This is the perfect time to do a little cleaning. Take all those crafty links and folders cluttering up the desktop and either send them to the trash, or put them all in one giant folder in the very outermost region to keep those things from being a distraction. Then the current NaNo WIP folder seems to be the only thing you see!

If you are looking for more online support, or just a place to vent or procrastinate, forums on just about every topic or genre you can imagine are available at the official website. Find your regional forum…that one keeps you close to the people in your area, including any activities they might have planned. Also, if this is your first year, check the forum for Newbies. You can adopt a mentor to help you through the NaNo experience. A word to the wise…the forums can be black holes of your time and writing, so I suggest setting a timer before going in! And don’t forget your writing buddies! You can add writers in your region, or MBT Voices, or the new friend you made at ACFW, or any of us Ponderers who are signing up. I would love to be your writing buddy. Go to the NaNo website, sign in, hit the “search” tab and choose “author.” Plug in my NaNo name (GoosesGirl93) and follow the links to add me to your list. And don't forget to visit the MBT NaNoWriMo Celebration page to find more buddies, fabulous prizes, and to get a sweet deal on Susan May Warren's Book Buddy, the perfect companion for NaNoWriMo!

One last thing that as a home school mom I must share! I have my two boys involved, with the Young Writers Program. It offers an awesome interactive website that includes the printable (FREE!!) NaNoWriMo’s 100% awesome, non-lame Young Novelist Workbook available for elementary, middle, and high school levels. These are particularly useful if you happen to home school your kids, but even kids in mainstream schooling can participate and you can all write together. Each young writer chooses their own word count goal (some might need a little help knowing what is realistic for their age) and it is awesome to see their reactions when they see their own word count begin to grow. Their website offers articles to help with writing and language arts as well as age appropriate forums where they can interact with other young writers. And, (I am ridiculously jealous about this) the young writers receive pep talks, from awesome YA authors like Jerry Spinelli and Avi.

So take the plunge with me! It isn’t something to fear…it’s made to be fun. Your inner editor is NOT invited so you have absolutely nothing to lose! Gather up your chocolate and your favorite caffeinated drinks, and let’s do this!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What's Waiting 'Round the Bend?

As the winds of autumn snag the bright colored leaves and swirl them to their winter resting places, writers all over the world settle in for a long winter of creativity.

You want to finish that novel inside you, but there are uncertainties. Your path is unfamiliar. For a while you were able to navigate your way, but now you discover a bend in the road. The daunting unknown claws at you with both terror--and even a sense of excitement as your strain to see what's up ahead . . . just around the corner.

I learned something from years of riding my bike and running along trails: A trail never looks the same when you travel it from the opposite direction. Sometimes I'd jog deeper into the woods and get spooked. Fear would jump out of the woods from nowhere and trip me up. When I turned around, I didn't recognize the trail. Same trail. Same foliage. Completely unrecognizable. I'd stop and gaze in both directions. Always, the direction I was going looked and felt like the right way. I'd run through my fear, accomplish my goal and celebrate victory!

The same truth applies to my writing journey. When I got scared, I'd think of stopping. I ran the other way, but going backward never felt right. I'm only at peace when I'm headed down the path God carved out for me--no matter the uncertainty.

Today when I come to a blind curve in the road, the thrill of what's around the next bend propels me to stay on the path. To write the next line. To type "The End."

Let me encourage you to do the same! Keep moving forward, around that unfamiliar bend in the road. Discover what's waiting for you.

We're writers. It's what we do!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

One Day Seminar with Susan May Warren

Writers in the Denver area,
you don't want to miss this opportunity!

Best-selling author Susan May Warren is teaching
a one day Storycrafter's Seminar
Denver, Colorado on November 13, 2010
8:30 am to 4:00 pm

If you want to write a story, but don't know where to start, the Storycrafter's Seminar is for you! You'll learn:
  • story structure
  • character creation
  • plotting
  • essential storytelling secrets
Something new to the Denver seminar: How to Manage the Muddle (Middle!)--the section of your novel where things start to sag.

The seminar is hosted by the Denver chapter of ACFW and will be at the Graystone Castle Event Center (formerly Radisson Graystone Castle).

Registration ends November 1, 2010. Cost is $109 and includes:
  • Storycrafter's workbook
  • Continental breakfast
  • Deli lunch buffet

Register at: The Storycrafter's Seminar

Monday, October 25, 2010

Half Empty or Half Full?

Life for all of us can be, well, crazy. My friend and fellow Ponderer, Beth Vogt, says my four kids are "zany." Ummm . . . I'd say they were crazy. I run them in two separate directions at least three times a day. And at any give time they are all four talking to me at once. We have two dogs who are always trying to slip in the house, regardless of whether or not they aggravated the only skunk around.

My husband had surgery on his rotator cuff last week. It was a tough surgery. Needless to say, last week my life was all about him. The sleeping pill didn't work and the pain medicine kept him awake. I think I totaled all of 16 hours sleep this entire week--and I wasn't even the one who had surgery!

By Saturday I was tired. Exhausted. But I had a round of commitments for my kids and myself that included babysitting my 2-year-old nephew and my 5-year-old niece.

When was I going to find time to write?

I made a choice to change my perspective. I chose to see my glass half full. I chose to be thankful.

My crazy, zany circumstances didn't change. My schedule sure didn't get lighter.
But here's what I focused on:
  • I am thankful I had kids to chauffeur. (I have one baby in heaven already.)
  • I am thankful for the accounting work. (I could be unemployed.)
  • I am thankful I had a car to drive. (There was a time in my life when the only option I had was public transportation. A really bad option in Texas.)
I looked at my circumstances and I made a choice. You know what? At the end of the day, my glass was full with reasons to be thankful.

Ponder with me: Is your glass feeling empty? Take a minute to consider all the things--all the people--you can be grateful for. Even better, share your reasons to be thankful in a comment below!

Alena T.
Proverbs 3: 5 & 6

Friday, October 22, 2010

Don't Give Up!

Do you see it?

Your mailbox, gleaming in the afternoon sun.

You’ve made this trip a thousand times before, but never with this kind of anticipation. There is something in there you’re meant to see. You don’t know if it’s going to be good or bad. You don’t know if you will cry with happiness or sob over defeat.

You just don’t know.

Rejection is a hard thing to manage in our emotional box. It’s hard because it demands something from us. It demands that we either quit or we persevere and that’s hard no matter which way you land.

And this is where I tell you a poignant story:

There was once a man who was given an amazing talent with words. His master bid him to take this wonderful oratory skill to a far country and warn them of the coming disaster. The man did not like this command, so he decided to run away. The man ended up on a ship where the storms raged, and he was tossed into the sea. Immediately, a large fish came along and swallowed the man. Then, after living in its belly for three days, the man relented and chose to follow his master’s plan. The great fish vomited him on the shore of this land he was originally sent to help. The man used his words to warn the people of the coming disaster, and they heard and obeyed the warning.

Like Jonah and the Big Fish, we can run from the gifts God has given us when the situation becomes far too uncomfortable. If we stay the course, however, the people will listen, and they will be saved from whatever disaster might be coming their way.

Please, don’t give up. No matter what kind of rejection you may encounter.

Don’t give up, because it costs too many…  too much.

Ginger R. Takamiya

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Follow Your Dreams...Even When It's not Logical

Ponderer Teri Dawn Smith interviewed Angela before
leaving for England. As many of you know, Teri suffered
an aneurysm 10 days ago, and is recovering in a
hospital in Cambridge. She is doing better every day.
Please keep Teri and her family in your prayers.
We are posting this interview today to give you a glimpse
of Teri's heart--her desire to mentor and encourage
young writers. She was so excited for us to meet
Angela at ACFW--and is so proud of her success!

Angela Bell, 2010 Genesis Finalist

Today Angela Bell, 2010 Genesis Finalist, joins the MBT Ponderers.

Teri: ACFW 2010 conference was your first ever. As a younger writer, what was your overall impression of the conference?

Angela: At first, I was overwhelmed and very nervous. I couldn't possibly have anything to say to experienced writers. Not to mention the agents and editors. Talk about scary! I didn't know how I'd manage my nerves, but God had it under control. The other conference attendees welcomed me right away. Their kind encouraging words made me feel at home. I loved how at any moment you'd spot a group of people (usually total strangers) praying for each other.
At the conference I made new friends, learned more about writing, and enjoyed watching God work in my life and in the lives of others. I can't wait till the 2011 conference in St. Louis!

Teri: From my perspective, you worked the conference like a pro! Tell us how you first started writing.

Angela: I wrote my first "book" when I was five as a gift for my Mom on Mother's Day. It had exactly twelve sentences and illustrations that I drew myself. Impressive, I know. ;-) After that, it became a tradition to write a story or poem every year on Mother's Day. Later in high school I wrote short stories for my three younger siblings. I felt a joy and satisfaction every time I completed a story and read it aloud to my family. That's when I started thinking about pursuing writing as a career.

Teri: No wonder you’re so far along already! I understand you had a discouragement concerning writing when you were sixteen years old. Can you tell us about it?

Angela: When I was sixteen my Mom took me to a fiction writing work shop in our area. A published author had come to give writing tips and discuss their books. When the workshop ended, I waited in line to talk to the author. I shared my interest in fiction writing and dream of future publication. The author gave me "the look" and proceeded to tell me that getting published was near impossible, that nobody wanted to publish the kind of books I wrote, and to not bother trying. I quit writing for over a year.

Teri: Grrrr. It still makes my blood boil to hear about someone crushing the dreams of a teenager! That's pretty tough for a sixteen-year-old. What lifted you beyond it?

Angela: My wonderful Savior Jesus Christ! After I gave up writing, I didn't know what I was supposed to do with my life. One day my mom and I prayed, and we both felt that God wanted me to pursue fiction writing (despite the author's advice to not bother). I didn't know where I'd find the teaching I needed, but I trusted God.
A couple weeks later my mentor, Teri Dawn Smith, announced through my home school group's e-mail loop that she'd be teaching a course on fiction writing. Coincidence? I don't think so! Since then God has been faithful to open the right doors and opportunities at exactly the right time. I wouldn't be writing today if it weren't for the Lord's guidance.

Teri: It’s been a highlight for me to have you in my classes! As one of our younger writers, was there anything that was difficult at the ACFW conference? What advice would you give to younger writers attending the conference for the first time?

Angela: I don't think the things I found difficult at the conference differ much from the more seasoned writers. We all have the same fears and deal with the same issues. Fear of rejection. Insecurity. Self doubt. Lack of confidence. For me the most difficult thing was putting myself out there and pitching to editors and agents. My confidence will probably increase as I get older, but I'm not sure things like pitching to an editor will ever be "easy."

My advice for any writers attending the conference for the first time would be first to Breathe. Second, examine your expectations for the conference. Are your expectations so rigid that they don't give God room to move on your behalf? Don't go in with a list of things that have to happen for it to be a success. Go expecting God to open the right doors for you at the right time. His plans are often better than ours. I know God surprised me with some unexpected blessings at the conference.

Teri: Great advice for those of us at any age! What was your favorite conference experience?

Teri and Angela ready for the banquet.
Angela: It's hard to choose just one, but I'd have to say the thing I enjoyed most was being surrounded by kindred spirits. I've always felt out of place. At the conference, for the first time, I felt like I belonged. No one raised their eyebrows when I mentioned things like having characters talk in my head, or glazed over when I used my "crazy" writer terms like POV, RUE, or GMC. I'm so grateful that God has provided friends that get me.

Teri: So true! What are you working on now?

Angela: Right now I'm in the process of editing my first completed manuscript, again. :-) I'm also working on the sequel. Both are science fiction geared for older teens, and I have an idea budding in my head for another unrelated science fiction series.

Teri: I understand your family supports you enthusiastically, but your mother thought you'd write ballerina stories. Tell us about your venture into science fiction.

Angela: First, let me say that I have the most amazing supportive parents and siblings in the world! Second, my venture into science fiction was totally unplanned. I've read fantasy (C.S. Lewis and Tolkien) but never read sci-fi. I've always loved fairy tales with princesses and classics literature such as Jane Austen. Naturally Mom assumed my writing would reflect that and so did I. One year I started a contemporary story about a ballerina, but I . . . how should I say . . . got bored out of my mind.
Later I got a vague idea for a story. During plot development, to my surprise, it morphed into a sci-fi story about another planet. What surprised me even more was that I loved writing the genre. I'm a little behind on the sci-fi lingo, but I'm learning. Plus, I have a teen brother from another galaxy who helps me with the advanced technology and science details.

Teri: Anything else you'd like to share?

Teacher & student with Genesis certificates
Angela: Never give up your dream! No matter what people say or how many "looks" you get. Don't let someone rob you of the blessings God has in store for your life. We were all created by God for a purpose. He has planted in us gifts, talents and callings that He wants expressed from us as individuals so we can serve our generation well. If we deny the gift God has given us, we hurt not only ourselves, but the untold number of people God wants to touch through us. Don't squeeze into society's box of what's acceptable. Follow God's specific unique plan for your life, and He'll take you places you never imagined!

Teri: I’ve often said I teach the best students ever. Now you can see why. But get ready world, I have another student hot on Angela’s heels!

Have you ever had anyone squelch your dreams? How did you overcome?

Monday, October 18, 2010

How to Deal with the Paparazzi

Last week I smiled and posed as cameras flashed. I tried to ignore the video camera trained on me. No, I didn’t get married. I signed books with my co-author. Fun! Well, kinda. You see, I’m one of those shy writer-types. The kind who untags a lot of photos on Facebook. I don’t like getting my picture taken.

Maybe you’re thinking you can hide in your dimly lit home and avoid the cameras until you get that coveted contract. Nope. You need author photos, because you never know when that quality photo might come in handy. Look through your collection—that photo from before you lost all that baby weight. That one with Uncle Harry in the background, wearing the frog costume that didn’t cover his belly. There are lots of places you can use an author photo, and those snapshots won’t do. Business cards. Websites. Articles or interviews. Blogs. Social networking sites.

So, yes. You need photos. Good ones. Never fear. This chick who hates the camera has had four photo shoots so far. You can learn from my experiences.

What I Did Wrong:

1. Lack of planning. For two last-minute shoots, I only had a certain time that I could go. Against the advice of my photography-dabbling friend, we went. The lighting was wrong, resulting in shots with my eyes closed or with me in half-shadow, half-sunlight.

2. Too rushed. I felt stupid for the first two. Okay, for all of them, but those were the worst. I was ready to go as soon as we started, so I rushed the shoot, meaning we didn’t take nearly as many pictures as we should have to find that perfect one. Believe me, I need lots of photos.

3. Didn’t use an experienced photographer. My friend has a good camera, and she takes some great pictures. However, I need someone to tell me where to stand, how to tilt my head, where to look, what to do with my hands. If you’re not a natural, make sure your photographer can help you pose. This doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune. If you can find someone who's taken classes, or who has a good eye, or--like the ones I hired later on--who is just starting a business, you can get good deals.

4. Didn’t mix it up. Before one shoot, I practiced facial expressions in the mirror. I was going for a Mona Lisa-type smile. I closed my eyes to try to remember how it felt. Thought I nailed it. (Go ahead and laugh.) During the majority of the shoot, I tried to maintain this half-smile but mostly ended up looking like I’d had a stroke.

5. Clothes choices. One outfit washed me out. Another didn’t lay right in some poses. It might be a good idea to have someone snap digital photos of you modeling outfits to see which one is most camera-friendly.

What I Did Right:

1. I knew what mood I was going for and talked it out with my photographers so they could choose the setting appropriately. It’s good to know what kind of website you want when you do this, too, as it’s easier on the website designer if he has some good photos to work with.

2. I chose photographers I clicked with. I’d known them all for a while. I admit it felt weird staring at a guy I went to high school with as he snapped photos, but he and the others knew what I was looking for and what I was comfortable with. I still felt stupid, but it helped.

3. I took a friend. The shoots with my co-author, Tracy Bowen, were the most fun. Obviously, not everyone has a co-author, but even when Tracy wasn’t in the shot, instead of making me feel even more self-conscious, she made me laugh…which helped banish that Mona Lisa-with-a-stroke smile.

4. I had different types of pictures taken. Headshots. From a distance. With a book. Looking at the camera. Fun photos, serious photos. Against a plain, non-distracting background. In a burned-out forest. This gives you and anyone designing something for you choices to best fit the space and style.

5. I wore something that made me feel at ease. (Finally!) My best and most comfortable photo shoot was the one where I wore a hat. Partly because I also had Tracy with me, but partly because in the hat, I felt much less self-conscious. Almost cute. For my book signing, I learned my lesson—I wore a hat.
Your turn! Have you had a photo shoot? What are some things you’ve done right or wrong? What are some other ideas to make it a success?

Jenness Walker

Jennifer Fromke won the copy of A Door County Christmas. Jennifer, please e-mail Roxanne at persian.sunrise@sbcglobal.net so she can get the book to you!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Meet the Authors of A Door County Christmas; 4-in-1 Collection

Hi, I'm Roxanne Sherwood. Please welcome Becky Melby, Rachael Phillips, Eileen Key and Cynthia Ruchti; authors of A Door County Christmas. Leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of the book.

Christmas Crazy by Becky Melby
Jillian Galloway sacrifices her vacation to salvage her uncle’s dinner theater in time for Christmas, but a leaky roof and oddball actors challenge her optimism. When a mysterious Brazilian offers his help, should she listen to the rumors or trust those Latin eyes?
Becky Melby and husband Bill have four married sons and eleven grandchildren. Becky has co-authored nine books and is currently working on a contemporary fiction series.

Ride with Me into Christmas by Rachael Phillips
Widowed Joanna Flick’s new neighbor Paul Sorenson shares her passion for bicycling and Door County, as well as her faith in Christ. But will their Grinch-y grown children steal their fun romance before it has a chance to bud?
Rachael Phillips, an award-winning Indiana writer, (www.rachaelwrites.com) has authored four Barbour biographies, besides her Door County novella. She and husband Steve have three children and four grandchildren.

My Heart Still Beats by Eileen Key
Hired by two octogenarians to escort them on their last visit to their bayside cottage in Ephraim, Wisconsin, Madison Tanner literally “runs into” Realtor Grant Sterling. Grant is intent on selling the cottage before Christmas, but every prospective buyer finds a new problem with the property, prompting Grant to suspect Madison is guilty of sabotage. Each new setback pushes Grant further from his goal and closer to the hazel-eyed chauffeur.
Eileen Key resides in Texas near her three grown children and two wonderful grandchildren where she is an active member of Grace-San Antonio.

The Heart’s Harbor by Cynthia Ruchti
Amanda Brooks retreats to picturesque Egg Harbor in Door County, Wisconsin, to escape an empty holiday season in her Chicago apartment. Peace on earth is what she needs but instead finds herself in charge of the legendary Christmas Tea at the Heart’s Harbor Victorian Inn. Dealing with its quirky guests, bare-bones budget, antisocial puppy, matchmaking owner, and her match-resistant son, Jordan, deepens her doubts that Christmas and love have anything in common.
Cynthia Ruchti writes and produces a 15-minute drama/devotional radio broadcast and is currently president of American Christian Fiction Writers.

Whose idea was it to write A Door County Christmas: Four Romances Warm Hearts in Wisconsin’s Version of Cape Cod (Romancing America.)? How did the four authors become involved? Who pitched the story to Barbour?

CYNTHIA: Becky Melby and I (both Wisconsin authors) discovered we have a matching appreciation for the beauty and charm of Door County, Wisconsin, and toyed with the idea of setting a series of Christmas novellas in that area. Since we both also enjoy adding a twist of humor to our stories, and since Becky is so skilled at writing romance, we looked for two more authors to join us who had a heart for romantic comedy. Eileen and Rachael were friends of mine from ACFW and seemed the perfect duo to join us in this adventure. (Eileen says she was Plan B, but we know she was God’s Plan A all along.)

BECKY: When we began discussing the idea of a Christmas collection, there was no arguing that Wisconsin’s touristy peninsula was the perfect setting. Cynthia knew Rachael and Eileen had the kind of comedic voice we were hoping for and when she approached them, they agreed to jump in. We wrote a proposal and sent it off to Becky Germany at Barbour.

RACHAEL: Cynthia and I met at an earlier ACFW. We both had served as humor columnists for ACFW’s Afictionado for two years. She and Becky M. agreed they wanted to ask someone who would enjoy writing with a humorous slant, and that’s how I came into the picture.

EILEEN: I was invited after one of the other writers couldn’t participate. Cynthia bravely pitched to Becky Germany at breakfast at the conference. Becky had worked with Becky Melby and her interest was piqued.

All of you actually traveled together to Door County for research. Four writers on a trip—that sounds like a story in itself.

EILEEN: Oh yes, some fond, fun memories were created, that’s for sure! What a scenic spot to visit! I hope to return someday.

CYNTHIA: Four days of intense research seemed like a long time until we got there and began to soak in all the natural beauty and the scenic drives and the shops and restaurants and galleries and oh my! We had fun piling in and out of our vehicle as we noted points of interest or drove past houses that looked like the ones we had in our budding stories’ imaginations. What amazing women with amazing lives and challenges. (Our characters, too!)

BECKY: That trip “gelled” us as a team. I hadn’t met either Rachael or Eileen, but after that trip, I felt like they were sisters. The scenery was breathtaking, the food delectable, and the company as sweet as a Door County cherry/hot fudge sundae!

RACHAEL: What a fun mix! I didn’t know Becky or Eileen, but we all blended as if we’d worked together for years. And Door County is a unique experience—all the wholesomeness of the Midwest married to the artsiness usually found on the coasts.

How valuable was that research?

EILEEN: The trip was invaluable to me. I’m a Texan, and snow/cold is a foreign idea to me. I never knew areas could close down for the winter months! So it caused me to rethink some of the things my characters did.

BECKY: I’ve been to Door County many times, but this trip helped me visualize where my characters would be and capture details I never would have remembered.

CYNTHIA: Visualizing places for a plot twist and capturing the sights, smells, and flavors of Door County helped us create a book that makes people tell us often, “Oh, now I HAVE to go there!”

RACHAEL: Interviews over the phone are helpful, but they’re no substitute for experiencing Door County Magic firsthand. Internet info, photos and videos filled in the gaps, but when I climbed the fire tower in Peninsula State Park with Becky and watched the sun set over wintry Green Bay, I knew my characters would have to experience this—and they did!

How did you decide on the elements that unify the story?

EILEEN: Brainstorming. Trial and error. We each critiqued the other’s work, pointed out any inconsistencies.

CYNTHIA: We threw away a few ideas. Okay, a few dozen. Each of the four stories is both unique and connected. We worked hard to make sure those connecting threads were meaningful but not domineering. And I think we each fell in love with each others’ characters.

BECKY: Cynthia created the innkeepers and the Christmas tea for her story. We all agreed they would be perfect elements to incorporate in each story.

RACHAEL: We each claimed a town apiece on the Door County peninsula as distinct settings for our novellas, then visited them individually, taking notes and photos. We also compiled a list of restaurants, points of interest, recreation spots, favorite foods, and other elements and divied them out. We even collaborated on weather. For example, I needed snow on the ground—enough for snowmobiles—during certain weeks of December. The others agreed not to instigate thaws then!

What was your writing process?

BECKY: We outlined our stories before beginning, then exchanged chapters as we finished them. Four sets of eyes on each story was such a help.

RACHAEL: We brainstormed together per e-mail about our initial ideas and made suggestions to solve any problems that appeared, then sent the proposal to Barbour. Becky Germany surprised me—the novice novel writer of the bunch—at ACFW conference with my first contract! (The three other sneaky writers had managed to conceal this from me.) When I recovered from the shock, I put together a rough outline, did research with the gang at Door County, then wrote and wrote as we critiqued each others’ material, chapter by chapter. And re-wrote and re-wrote. I had to trim and condense extensively, because I’m a lifetime member of the Wordy Club. But I made the 20,000-word count!

CYNTHIA: It was a challenge for me personally to write romantic comedy in the months between my father-in-law’s and my mother’s Homegoing. But the deeper I plunged into the story, the more I could see that the Lord used it to help press some humor into a humorless time…and remind me Who is ultimately in control—of life, of love, and of our writing careers.

What tips do you have for other writers who want to collaborate on an anthology?

EILEEN: Be kind, be patient and love one another. Then write. I believe the power of prayer helped us form an everlasting bond. We had a strong idea about a unique subject, and each brought our own strengths into the work, yet were willing to listen to critiques.

CYNTHIA: Yeah, what Eileen said!

BECKY: I can’t think of anything to add to Eileen’s answer. That sums it up!

RACHAEL: Amen! I will appreciate forever the openness and experience of my novella partners—they taught me so much. Our sister bond in Christ kept us working together, especially when illness and life stresses made it difficult. I would encourage other new fiction authors to respect the wisdom and savvy of those who have published before.

Also, laugh together and eat a lot.

What surprised you about the project?

EILEEN: First that Barbour purchased it! I felt it was a long-shot at best. Then how seamlessly our group worked together.

CYNTHIA: It surprised me that after many years of vacationing and getaways to Door County, there was still a lot more to unearth. And that after 38 years of marriage, there is still more to unearth about romance and humor and where they intersect.

BECKY: This is the second novella anthology I’ve participated in and this experience was radically different than the first because of the close interaction. I couldn’t wait to turn on the computer every day for another installment of one of the stories. We worked as a team, not as four independent writers—that was a delightful surprise.

RACHAEL: That I got to be part of it! Sometimes I had to pinch myself to believe it was really true. Also, it amazes me that people who did not know each other could blend their unique abilities and quirkinesses to produce such fun and meaningful stories.

What was the most fun or unique event that happened, either during research or while writing the story?

EILEEN: On our last evening, we drug out our notes and laptops, settled in for a serious brainstorm/fact-checking writing time: and the electricity went out for the whole town! The Inn provided glow sticks and we sang “This Little Light of Mine” instead.

BECKY: In the midst of that black-out, Cynthia and I went out to pick up pizza in the next town. Very eerie to see the bay— glassy-like water normally shimmering with reflected light—pitch black.

CYNTHIA: That was a memory-making moment I’ll never forget. The light from the fireplace was all we had, in addition to those adorable lime-green glow sticks. We ate pizza and prayed for one another. The perfect punctuation for our time together.

RACHAEL: Tootling around Door County, jumping out of the car and taking pictures was fun, too. We stood lookout for each other, and nobody got arrested.

What question do you wish I’d have asked?

EILEEN: Does our group plan on working together again? Good Lord willin’, we just might. Though I think we’ll research a warmer climate. Thanks Roxanne.

CYNTHIA: It was fun discussing these questions, Roxanne. We appreciate it! Where can readers find the book? Wherever books are sold! Including many Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs.

RACHAEL: Do I want a Door County Sundae (frozen custard drenched with hot fudge and warm cherries, smothered in whipped cream) right now? Answer: Oh, yeah!

BECKY: How can readers get to know your characters better? By visiting their blog: http://doorcountychristmas.blogspot.com/

Thank you so much for the opportunity, Roxanne.

Ladies, we’re so glad you could join The Ponderers today. Thanks for being here.

Readers: Becky, Rachael, Eileen and Cynthia, have agreed to answer questions throughout the day. Don’t forget to leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of A Door County Christmas before midnight on Sunday. A winner will be chosen at random.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Do you Journal?

Jennie's Garden

Do you keep a journal? Some people keep a diary of things that happened during their day, week, or month. Me? I keep journals of things I learned.

As some of you may know, I am an avid gardener. (Yes, this is a picture of my yard.) But when autumn approaches, and faded blooms, wilting foliage, and yellowing leaves are the only remnants of my once beautiful garden, I start preparing for next year. I do this by stepping outside with my journal in hand and walking through each of my nine flower beds. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking . . . it sounds more like obsessive gardening, rather than avid. I've been told it is.

I examine each flower, much as writer does a chapter or scene in their story. I look for plants that have overgrown their space, or weed infested areas that, come next spring, I will need to pay closer attention to. Perhaps I purchased a new plant and it thrived – I note that in my journal, as well as the ones that didn’t do so well.

I mark each item in my book like a trail of breadcrumbs in my gardening journey. A post mortem, if you will, of the year’s highlights while everything is still fresh in my mind. Then when my gardens start coming to life next spring, I have a good idea of where I need to start working.

I have applied the same principle to writing. I keep an ongoing journal. I have a growing list of favorite words -- you know, those ones that seem to appear over and over again your writing. I make notes of things I learned at conferences or from books I read that I want to apply going forward. I keep notes of ideas for future books and a list of blog sites I discovered during my journey.

Now as I start my next story, I can go back and look at what my pain points were and hopefully avoid a repeat. It makes it easier to improve on the next story I write.

Do you keep a journal? If so, what do you write about?

Jennie Atkins

UPDATE ON OUR FRIEND, TERI: She is still hospitalized in Cambridge, following surgery for an aneurysm. The doctors found a second aneurysm, but were unable to operate on it and are trying to determine the course of action. Will be making decisions in the next few days. Please continue to pray for Teri, who is experiencing disorientation and pain. Her family--husband and two sons and a daughter, are with her.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Backstory Blues

I don’t know about you, but I love a character’s backstory. I love figuring out what makes my characters tick. Not only do I love the stories of how they came to be, but I want my readers to love that about my characters too.

The problem is, nobody wants to read your character’s life story in your first chapter as a backstory dump (not even your mother, really). So how do you unload all those golden nuggets in a tantalizing fashion?

At a recent writer’s seminar I attended, the speaker shared her technique for beating the backstory blues. Write them in blue. No, seriously.

If you are dying to tell the backstory, write a mini story, the character’s backstory, in a separate document and make the font blue. (You might actually have already done this, but title it Chapter One.)

There. Not only is the backstory told, but an agent won’t have to slog through it to get to the point in chapter one where your novel actually starts.

Okay, you are probably thinking something like, thanks Ames, that is so not a helpful tip. You want me to write two stories? Forget the agent slogging through it later, I’m slogging through now.

Fear not, here’s the tip: After you write your backstory blues, start writing your first chapter. Cut and paste the blue-font backstory you want to include into your chapter, exactly as it is. Really. You can go back and weave the entire thought into a little nugget later. This has two benefits. It will ensure you include relevant nuggets of backstory to entice the reader to read further, and it will also make you glaringly aware of potential backstory dumps.

So, writers, ponder the backstory blues of your novel today. What golden nuggets do your readers need to appreciate your story now and what might pack more punch later?

Happy writing,


URGENT PRAYER REQUEST: Please pray for fellow Ponderer, Teri Smith. While on a trip overseas (London) with her daughter, Teri suffered an aneurysm. As of Sunday night, Teri is in stable condition. The doctors have sedated her and will run tests in the morning and determine what to do then. Her husband is traveling to England today.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Scary prayers and patience

There are some things one just doesn’t want to pray for. And by “one” I mean “me.”

Like humility. Seriously, I worry that the moment I pray for a spirit of humility, I’ll:

a) plop spaghetti all over the one nice white shirt I own (yes, it’s happened); 
b) send an email with a blush-inducing typo (yes, it’s happened);
c) accidentally wear my fuzzy slippers to work (uh, it's almost happened).

Or self-control. Really, the day I pray for self-control will probably be the same day a coworker brings a plate of double-fudge brownies to work. And I, convicted by my own prayer, will have to say no. Oh, the pain.

Or patience.

Ahh, now that’s a biggie. 'Cause what better way for God to teach me patience than to make me wait. Grr. 

Patience is a huge part of a writer’s life—whether we like it or not. And mostly, I’m of the “not” persuasion. Just being frank here: I want it all now. I want an agent and a book contract—hmm, make that a multi-book contract—and the ability to stay at home and write full time. And for that last one to happen I either need to truly hit it big—like John Grisham big—or pull a bank job or marry a guy with a decent income. (Of the three, the last is probably the most plausible—and legal. So, men, step up. I’m nice, I really am.)

But in all seriousness, writing without patience is probably a bit like getting your tooth pulled without laughing gas. Doable, but a whole lot less enjoyable.

Someone—maybe my mom?—once told me that patience isn’t waiting. It’s waiting with a good attitude. And perhaps that’s the trickiest part of all: choosing to wait with peace and joy. The kind that says, “God, I truly trust your timing. And while I wait, I’m going to approach each step of my writing journey with hopeful confidence. I’m going to take joy in the small accomplishments—whether it’s a good critique or a productive writing day or an encouraging email from a fellow writer.”

That’s the kind of patience I want. And that, okay, yes, I’ll pray for. 

How about you? Is patience ever a struggle? What helps you maintain a good attitude while waiting?

Melissa Tagg

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Preparing for Nanowrimo

Each November, NaNoWriMo inspires writers to crank out that rough draft in thirty days. Chris Baty, author of No Plot? No Problem!, initiated NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—back in 1999 with twenty-one members. Today, over 165,000 writers participant. 

In 2003, I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time, writing furiously for thirty days. At 11 p.m. on November 30, I wrote two words that caused me to burst into tears—The End.

I did it. I wrote a book.

I was a real writer.

My husband said, “I guess you’re serious about this writing stuff.” and bought me a laptop so the rest of the family would have a chance to use the computer.

Participating in NaNoWriMo takes pre-planning. Carving out writing time isn’t always easy while juggling a job, family, church, and extracurricular activities. With a bit of scheduling, it is possible.  

Try these suggestions to meet your Nanowrimo goal:  
  •  Pray for God’s guidance and wisdom as you write.
  • Print this out and tape it to your computer monitor or desk where you can see it daily: 

      So, have you signed up for NaNoWriMo yet? I have!   

      Leave a comment along with your e-mail address, and I will put you in a drawing to win a copy of No Plot? No Problem!. Sign up for NaNoWriMo, add me (username LiJo) as a buddy, and I add your name two more times. You have until Friday, October 8 at 11:59 PM EST to sign up for NaNoWriMo and add me as a buddy. I will post the winner of No Plot? No Problem! on Saturday, October 9.

      Also, join us at My Book Therapy for the 2010 MBT NaNoWriMo Celebration. We will encourage one another and earn fun prizes as we strive toward our word count goals!
      Lisa Jordan